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Akst: Learning about life from Louie

Sometimes a situation becomes too ugly to ponder. For me, that happened Wednesday morning.

By then, a big part of the U.S. government had shut down because a small group of narcissistic thugs in the House of Representatives who don’t represent most of their party put America under their boot heel.

This group, numbering between a couple of dozen and 100, is the far-right fringe of Republican House members. They’re mostly affiliated with the tea party. Certainly there are lots of tea partiers, but only a few are able to throw a wrench into the works of democratic governance.

Only 80 Republican lawmakers, for instance, signed a recent letter demanding that the GOP try to defund Obamacare. “[They] represent just 18 percent of the House and just a third of the two hundred and thirty-three House Republicans,” writes Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker.

These people think shutting down the government – costing the economy $300 million a day and causing immeasurable insecurity and uncertainty – is a workable game plan.

And many of their political bedfellows aren’t happy about what’s happening.

“[The small group of hard-liners] have never followed any leadership plan, and now all of a sudden the leadership has adopted their plans and we’re fully implementing their strategy and plan, which is I think is actually a lack of a strategy,” said Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California.

John McCain – who seems fairly well known in the GOP – said last week that “In the United States Senate, we will not repeal or defund ‘Obamacare.’ We will not, and to think we can is not rational.”

As for We the People?

Recent, numerous, credible polls show that most Americans think a government shutdown to achieve political goals is unacceptable. One national CBS News/New York Times poll conducted last week (in English and Spanish, to landline and cellphone telephone numbers) put that number at 80 percent.

Team Obama is having a tough week, too. The online insurance marketplaces, a much ballyhooed feature of the Affordable Care Act, were a far-less-than-spectacular debut. Widespread technical glitches, long wait times, and overwhelmed call centers were more norm than anomaly during the first two days of operations.

The Internet traffic, ironically, shows how interested people are in the Affordable Care Act, but if you don’t believe in Internet traffic, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that 7 million people will use the exchanges to buy insurance this year.

But as I said, by Wednesday morning the political miasma was too much for me, and as the deadline for this column made that whooshing sound as it flew by, I realized there was only one thing to do:

Talk about our new dog.

“Louie,” a large yellow Labrador mix, came into our lives Sunday. He originally hails from Arkansas. We adopted him through Casey’s Safe Haven, an Elburn-based organization that rescues animals.

Louie might be the most wonderful dog I’ve ever had. It’s like our family won the Super Powerball dog lottery.

A friend who volunteers for Casey’s traveled to Arkansas to rescue several animals. Louie wasn’t on her list to be rescued, but once our friend saw him, she couldn’t leave him behind.

Think about that.

The moral of this story is that a small group of selfless people did the right thing and put the needs of others above their own.

I wonder if there’s a lesson in that.

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter (@jasonakst).

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